Oscar Movies: Topper Returns (1941)

The third and last chapter of the “Topper” series, made by the venerable producer Hal Roach, “Topper Returns,” is less of a light screwball comedy and more of a dark house mystery.

Roland Young is back as banker Cosmo Topper, who gallantly offers a lift to pretty hitchhikers Gail Richards (Joan Blondell) and Ann Carrington (Carole Landis), which his wife, Clara (Billie Burke), resents

Gail and Ann are heading to a mysterious old mansion, inherited by Ann and populated by sinister characters, including Dr. Jeris (George Zucco) and Lillian (Rafaela Ottiano).

The only person the girls can trust is Ann’ father (H.B. Warner). Unable to sleep in the creepy mansion, Gail suggests that she and Ann exchange bedrooms. This proves to be a major mistake, when a hooded assailant, intending to murder Ann, kills Gail instead.

As a result, Gail’s ghost arises from her body and heads to the nearby summer house where the Toppers are staying. Topper wants nothing to do with Gail’s spirit, but she convinces him to help her identity her killer, and to rescue Ann from a similar fate.

Eddie “Rochester” Anderson plays well Young’s frightened chauffeur.

Contrived, broad, and slapstick-oriented, this is the weakest of the Topper films, which may explain why it was the last; the narrative possibilities were simply exhausted.

A decade later, Thorne Smith’s “Topper” characters were revived for a popular TV series, starring Leo G. Carroll, Anne Jeffreys, and Robert Sterling.

Oscar Nominations: 2

Sound; Elmer Raguse
Special Effects: Roy Seawright, Elmer Raguse

Oscar Context:

The winner of the Sound Recording was Jack Whitney for “That Hamilton Woman.”
“Ï Wanted Wings” won the the Special Effects Oscar.